April 22, 2008

How straightforward is your elevator speech?

At the most basic level, your professional introduction (aka "elevator speech") is what you tell people about what you do. It's a short introduction to your area of expertise that's a useful tool when meeting people in social and networking situations.

The length depends on the situation. If you're standing in line at the grocery story and strike up a conversation with your neighbor who asks what line of work you're in, your 3-minute version is going to sound like an annoying TV commercial.

My professional introduction is about 15 seconds long, which is perfect when speaking to an individual, but when I'm introducing myself in a group setting, I will say a little more.

Your professional introduction should mention your target audience and how you help them. Think benefits, not features. "Hi, I'm Joe Guy-Nextdoor. I (provide this benefit) to (this target audience)." You can rearrange it if it sounds better the other way around.

For example, "I'm an acupuncturist and I help dogs and cats feel calm during medical procedures."

"I'm a nutritionist. I help people who overeat learn to enjoy their food again."

"I'm a financial advisor. I provide options for eco-conscious women to use their money to fund their ideal world."

I'm not going to go into a lot of detail here; there are great resources all over the Web for crafting your introduction.

Here's what I want to focus on today. The most controversial aspect of the professional introduction involves the part where you say what you "do."

Many experts suggest beating around the bush with your first line, saying something like, "I make dreams come true." When the person you're talking to hears that, they're supposed to be so intrigued that they can't help but say, "Tell me more."

The problem with this approach is that it sounds corny and just a little manipulative. What's wrong with saying, "I'm a stylist," or "I'm a graphic designer," or "I'm a Reiki practitioner?" Most of the time, people are immediately going to get what you're talking about. (If you're a Reiki practitioner, you might want to say next, "Are you familiar with Reiki?")

Clear, concise communication is critical in a networking environment. You have a limited amount of time to get to know someone. Why waste that time with enigmatic word puzzles when you can just get to the point and actually make a connection? So it's not particularly sexy or dramatic to say, "I'm a lawyer." At least everyone knows what you're talking about and they don't have to decipher a code.

"I'm a public speaking coach. I help self-employed professionals build their skills and confidence as speakers." It's not sexy, but no one's eyes have ever glazed over during my intro.

My two cents: It's okay to say what you "do." There's enough manipulation and dishonesty and sneakiness out there in marketing and advertising already.

Be straightforward. Be direct. Be yourself.

James Lipton said to Tom Hanks on last night's episode of Inside the Actors Studio:

"Artifice and self-consciousness are every actor's enemy."

I would suggest that artifice and self-consciousness are every speaker's enemy. And while we're at it, I think they're also every person's enemy.

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